Grocery giant ALDI announces 100% sustainable packaging by 2025

April 8, 2019 by  
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This week, supermarket chain ALDI pledged to offer 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging on all of their products by 2025. In a press statement released early this month, the company outlined their specific goals to reduce plastic packaging throughout their stores over the next five years. ALDI is a major grocery chain with 1,800 stores across 35 states. They serve more than 40 million customers every month and are in the position to make a huge impact on the products that Americans consume, as well as the packaging they receive items in and promptly throw out. The grocery giant has a long standing commitment to sustainability, and CEO Jason Hart explains their decision to step-up efforts to combat the global plastic pollution crisis. Related: New York vows to ban plastic bags statewide in 2020 “ALDI has never offered single-use plastic shopping bags. And while we’re pleased that we’ve helped keep billions of plastic grocery bags out of landfills and oceans, we want to continue to do more. The commitments we’re making to reduce plastic packaging waste are an investment in our collective future that we are proud to make.” ALDI’s press release also states: “In 2018, ALDI recycled more than 250,000 tons of materials, including paper, cardboard, plastic and metal. Through this recycling effort, ALDI avoided the greenhouse gas equivalent of 8,094,533 gallons of gasoline.” Approximately 90 percent of all products sold in ALDI are produced and packaged exclusively for ALDI. As the sole customer, the chain has incredible power to dictate how manufacturers package, ship and present their items. However, just because the packaging is recyclable does not mean that customers will recycle it. While ALDI’s immense step forward shows remarkable growth, in order for the grocery store’s ambitious sustainability plan to be successful it ultimately relies on awareness, support and action from millions of customers. Via Treehugger Image via Mike Mozart

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Keep your tiny home safe with these 9 security tips

April 8, 2019 by  
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Tiny home security is becoming a major concern amid a recent slew of thefts. Given the mobile nature of tiny homes, people have been hooking them up to their trucks and driving away with them. The majority of these stolen tiny homes have been recovered, but it is still unnerving to think that people can steal your entire home in a matter of minutes. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your tiny home from being stolen. From locking hitches to installing motion detectors and cameras , here are a few tiny home security tips that will give you peace of mind. Related: Is a tiny home right for you? Lock The Hitch According to Tiny House Blog , the easiest way to prevent your tiny home from being carted away is to buy a hitch lock. These handy devices will stop people from unhitching your tiny home trailer. It also prevents someone from hooking up to the trailer and driving away, which would obviously be just as bad. Hitch Block Speaking of hitches, you can always block access to it entirely. After all, if the trailer hitch is completely blocked off, nobody will be able tow it away. You either buy a hitch block or make one yourself, depending on your budget . Lock The Wheels Wheel locks are another great way to keep your tiny home from unintentionally rolling away. Traffic police use these same devices for cars that are parked illegally, and removing them without the proper tools is a lot of work. Apart from the key, someone would need some heavy duty equipment to remove the lock, which will deter most criminals. The downside to wheel locks is that they can be expensive to purchase outright. But considering how much you could lose if your entire home is stolen, the investment is well worth it. GPS Technology In the event that criminals bypass your security measures, having a GPS device hidden in the home will lead you right to it. Several companies make tracking devices specifically for tiny homes, so there are plenty of options on the market to fit your needs. The majority of these devices feature a monitoring service that keeps tabs on everything for you. They usually run under $25 a month, which is not bad considering it might be one of the best ways to locate your home if it is stolen. If you do have a tracker on your home, you should always work with local law enforcement when recovering the home. Dog Power Many criminals are deterred by dogs , primarily because they are either intimidating looking or they create a lot of noise. Either way, having a dog or two on the premises could be what ultimately scares off a potential thief. While dogs, both large and small, can help discourage intruders, they should not be the primary line of defense for your tiny home. Motion Lights There are few things that would-be thieves love more than cover, especially when they are scoping out a potential target. Motion lights are great at scaring away thieves or, at the very least, making them think twice about stealing from you. Not only can these lights illuminate potential hiding places around your home, but they can also stop creepers in their tracks. There are plenty of options on the market when it comes to motion lights. For most tiny home owners, battery operated products are the best because they can be installed just about anywhere and do not require any electrical wiring. Related: This tiny home allows a family of 3 to go off the grid in Maui Securing Your Tiny Home When it comes to securing your home, Tiny Home Builders recommends installing locks on all exterior doors and windows. You can start by buying for your front door. Just about any window lock will do as tiny home windows are usually built better than ones found in RVs and most mobile homes. Smart Technology Smart home technology has made it easier than ever to keep track of your home security. You can even purchase DIY systems that include both motion detectors and sound sensors. These input devices will send you messages on your phone whenever they detect suspicious activity. The one negative to using smart technology is that they require constant power and an internet connection to function. If WiFi is not available near your tiny home, this might not be a viable option for you. Security Cameras Having visible security cameras around your home is the best way to prevent theft. You can choose a system that either stores video on a local hard drive or on a cloud-based server. You usually get better quality with a local storage system, though being able to upload to the cloud means you can access it whenever you want. If you opt for installing a security camera to bolster your tiny home security, make sure you put up a sign so that thieves are well aware that they are being monitored at all times. Images via Shutterstock

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Fairmont canine ambassador program promotes human-animal connection

April 8, 2019 by  
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It’s uncommon to see people flop down on the carpet in an upscale hotel lobby. But at the Fairmont Banff Springs on a Friday morning, a middle-aged woman from Indianapolis and two kids from Montreal are the latest of many to reject decorum when faced with Bear’s charms. The black lab gazes at them with liquid amber eyes while rolling over for a belly rub. It’s all in a day’s work for Bear, a canine ambassador who give travelers a dose of human-animal connection. The Fairmont’s canine ambassador program is spreading around the world, from Georgie, a yellow lab in Washington, DC to Tusker and Grammy, ridgeback/lab sisters at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. About 16 dogs now work for the hotel chain. Some people might find it gimmicky, but travelers missing their pets are drawn to the dogs like magnets. In Banff, the floor of the VIP concierge area, Bear’s lair, is littered with toys brought by admirers. Related: Vegan dog food company continues its international expansion Symbiotic species Why do people like dogs so much that they lavish gifts upon a hotel’s canine ambassador while on vacation? Humans have probably hung out with dogs for somewhere between fourteen and forty thousand years, depending on which researcher you ask. Some scientists credit dogs with helping humans survive. It’s true they’ve guarded our lives and property, herded sheep, pulled sleds, shared warmth, helped hunt and even, in a pinch, provided babysitting services. Most pets don’t earn their keep in such tangible ways. But humans do expect emotional connection and interaction. Many humans prefer dogs to cats because Fido is more likely than Fluffy to enthusiastically greet them at the door. A recent study by Japanese animal behaviorist Takefumi Kikusui found that when humans and their dogs gazed into each other’s eyes for several minutes, oxytocin levels rose in both species. While it increased by up to 130 % in the dogs, the humans experienced up to a 300% percent boost of this emotionally bonding hormone. No wonder people feel like something’s missing if they don’t bring their dog on vacation. The making of an ambassador Of course, it takes a special kind of dog to be willing and able to provide so much love and support for throngs of strangers. Many of the Fairmont dogs are dropouts from the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind program. They don’t make the final cut because of their personality or a health issue. Dropouts are usually too friendly and sociable to be seeing eye dogs. Laurent Pelletier, assistant director of food and beverage at the Fairmont Banff Springs , was considering adopting a family dog at the same time the hotel wanted to acquire a canine ambassador. “In a meeting, somebody asked would anyone be interested in being the dad,” Pelletier said. He and a few others staff members put their names in. Pelletier won, partly because he had dog-friendly attributes like a backyard and two children. When the day came, Canadian Guide Dogs put Bear on a plane from Ottawa. The whole family went to meet Bear at the airport. The lab/retriever mix spent a couple of weeks adjusting to his new home before he started his job. “He was extremely well behaved. But now he’s not as good,” Pelletier says affectionately while Bear mouths his hand. Bear started his job part time in fall of 2017. After about a month of staff walks, Bear was comfortable enough to start walking the guests. A Day in the Life Now Bear works fulltime from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., just like Pelletier. “It’s almost like he’s a human,” Pelletier says. “Some days he doesn’t want to get out of bed. I’m like ‘Bear, we’ve got to go.’” Bear spends most of his workday receiving visitors in the VIP concierge lounge. In winter , he might get a couple of guest walks per day. In the summer high season, they limit guest access to Bear. “There were days he barely got a break,” Pelletier says. Bear spends much of his day with Jason Lewis, VIP concierge and member of the acclaimed international concierge organization Les Clefs d’Or. Lewis grew up as more of a cat guy, in thrall to an enormous orange feline. But when asked what he gets out of his daily association with Bear, he answers immediately, “Happy. He’s company. He knows what’s going on.” Lewis manages Bear’s calendar, which includes walks with guests and occasional promotional appearances. Bear has a following of devoted fans and repeat visitors. “As soon as they book their room, they book a walk with Bear,” says Pelletier. Not only does Bear provide doggy affection, some people feel safer going on a trail with a dog. Sometimes Bear gets overwhelmed by guest attention. “You can see him tell you, ‘I’m over it,’” Lewis says. Bear slinks off behind the concierge counter when he needs a break, or holes up in Pelletier’s private office. Despite Bear’s extensive education and training, he’s still a normal dog. When he gets off work at five, he’ll play with his friend in the neighborhood, another black lab, or with Pelletier’s kids. “He’s a lot rougher with our kids than with the guest kids,” Pelletier says. “When he’s here, he’s at work. At home, he’s at home.” But even with the guests, Bear isn’t quite 100 percent domesticated. There’s still enough wildness in him to growl at a squirrel or dive into a snowbank. Images via Inhabitat

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UN predicts dire future for planet unless people change their ways NOW

March 18, 2019 by  
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The United Nations’ newest Global Environmental Outlook reinforces the worries of everyone concerned about the environment and our planet’s future. The 708-page report, released last week, examines human-inflicted woes on air, land and water. Scientists urge humans to immediately change their ways before we render Earth inhabitable. To those who have been paying attention to the planet’s decline, this report will not be news. But seeing all this human-wrought destruction in one enormous document makes for a grim, and even, shocking read. A few lowlights: Most land habitats have decreased in productivity for growing food and other vegetation; urban development and agriculture have claimed 40 percent of wetlands since 1970; water quality continues to worsen, due in part to chemical pollution; biodiversity is tanking, with many land, marine and freshwater species at risk for extinction; a third of the world’s people lack safe sanitation. Related: Air pollution is killing Europeans at an alarming rate With human population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, these problems will only increase. “The science is clear,” Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of U.N. Environment, said in a briefing. “The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment .” If we don’t change our ways soon, she said, the problem won’t be reversible. Changes in consumption, energy creation and waste disposal are crucial. Fortunately, the new UN report also contains solutions. For example, changing agricultural practices and redistributing food could help stem land degradation and biodiversity loss. More efficiently using and storing water, and investing in desalination, could improve the water scarcity situation. But it will take more than well-meaning individuals to reverse Earth’s fast track toward destruction. Politicians and policy makers around the world will need to join together to devise and enforce strategies to stabilize and improve water , air and land quality before it’s too late. Via National Geographic Image via 

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New hope for plastic recycling with IBM’s VolCat technology

March 6, 2019 by  
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Think how much more material would be reused if plastic recycling didn’t entail washing, sorting and individual processing. Now, IBM researchers have developed a new chemical process called VolatileCatalyst that eliminates these steps. VolCat recycling grinds up plastics, adds a chemical catalyst and cooks them at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius. The chemicals eat through polymer strands, producing a fine white powder ready to be made into new containers. By heating PET with ethylene glycol and the catalyst, lab workers depolymerize plastic . After distillation, filtration, purification and cooling, scientists eventually recover usable matter called a monomer—in this case the white powder. This process digests and cleans the ground plastic, separating contaminants like dyes, glue and food residue. Related: 6 places to find the best recycled building materials PET is an abbreviation for polyethylene terephthalate, the chemical name for polyester. This type of plastic is used to manufacture containers for two-liter bottles of soft drinks, water bottles, salad dressings, cooking oil, shampoo, liquid hand soap and carry-out food containers. It’s even found in carpet, clothing and tennis balls. DuPont chemists first synthesized PET in the 1940s, probably never guessing that 70 years later between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic would wind up in the ocean each year. Humans have produced more than 8 billion metric tons of plastic since its invention. About half of new plastic becomes trash each year. By 2050, some scientists project there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean . VolCat developers hope to reverse this destructive trend. According to the researchers’ statement, “In the next five years, plastic recycling advancements like VolCat could be adopted around the globe to combat global plastic waste . People at the grocery store buying a bottle of soda or container of strawberries will know that the plastic they’ve purchased won’t end up in the ocean, but instead will be repurposed and put back on the shelf.” + IBM Images via Shutterstock

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Supreme Court will make historic Clean Water Act ruling

March 4, 2019 by  
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This Fall, the Supreme Court will make a monumental decision on whether the Clean Water Act prohibits groundwater pollution. The upcoming case is in response to a 2018 verdict in Hawaii, which ruled that a wastewater facility needed a Clean Water Act permit to inject treated wastewater into ground wells. The ruling will have national implications about what constitutes direct water pollution with two possible and controversial outcomes: either creating a massive loophole for major polluters or drastically expanding the Clean Water Act to include infinite sources of non-direct pollution. “This is the most significant environmental law case in the last few year,” former Head of the Justice Department’s Environment Division, John Cruden, told E&E News . First, what is groundwater? According to the U.S. Geological Survey , ground water is water that is beneath land surface. It is water that fills pores and fractures in sand, soil and rocks. Groundwater supplies 40 percent of water used by the public and 39 percent of water used in U.S. agriculture. It also feeds into bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and the ocean. Related: Compensation for conservation: water markets are economists’ answer to scarcity What is the Clean Water Act? Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has been the main federal law governing the health of the country’s waterways. The Clean Water Act explicitly covers all navigable bodies of water. This definition has been up to judicial interpretation, but widely includes ocean, rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands, arguably including bodies of water that fill after heavy rains. The Clean Water Act channels federal funding to state and Tribal governments for water protection and remediation projects. Direct polluters are also required by the Act to obtain permits for any pollution discharged into bodies of water. The pollution case in Hawaii Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Maui was in violation of the Clean Water Act and needed a permit for its ongoing practice of injecting 3 to 5 million gallons of treated wastewater into the ground every day. In 2011, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study used tracer dye to prove that treated sewage was seeping out into coastal waters near Kahekili Beach. In 2012, a coalition of environmental advocacy organizations sued the treatment facility in order to protect nearshore coral reef. In 2018, the Court determined that because of its traceability, this case was considered direct pollution and therefore required a Clean Water Act permit. “If the Supreme Court reverses the lower courts’ decisions, chemical plants, concentrated animal feeding operations, oil refineries, and other industrial facilities would effectively have free rein to discharge pollutants indirectly into the nation’s waterways without Clean Water Act permits,” Earth Justice said in a statement reported in USA Today . However, the County of Maui argues that this is their most environmentally friendly option given limited resources and that they would need more time and funding to explore alternate methods of disposing of wastewater, such as offshore facilities.The County believes such issues should be determined at a local level, where judges understand the constraints. “We all want unpolluted waters, healthy coral and fish. But we want workable solutions, not onerous and costly government red tape. This is a home-rule issue that should be addressed here, not by far-off regulators imposing rules that don’t properly address our real world problems,” Maui County spokesperson Brian Perry said to the Lahaina News . Have other courts ruled on groundwater pollution? This is not the first time a local court has had to make a decision on indirect versus direct groundwater pollution and the Clean Water Act. In fact, USA today reports that in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in South Carolina ruled that an oil spill from a burst pipeline was in violation of the Clean Water Act because the oil seeped through groundwater and entered bodies of water such as the Savannah River. However, in 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Kentucky ruled that pollutants from a coal ash pond that entered groundwater was not in violation of the Clean Water Act because groundwater does not fall under “navigable waters”. The Supreme Court has important decisions to make both about state versus federal jurisdiction and also about the possibilities of discharging pollution into groundwater. If the Supreme Court rules against the local decision, environmentalists believe this would give polluters free reign to contaminate the country’s important water sources. If it upholds the local decision, municipalities worry they will be inundated with costly changes to infrastructure as well as open targets for lawsuits for everything from road runoff to leaky water fountains. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the County of Maui, Hawaii versus Hawaii Wildlife Fund in October or November, 2019. Via The Lahaina News Image via Shutterstock

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Oceans are dubbed the ‘ultimate sink’ for plastic waste

March 4, 2019 by  
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Plastic waste has officially reached the deepest levels of the world’s oceans, which are now being dubbed as the ultimate sinks for pollution. Scientists discovered organisms that had ingested microplastics at the bottom of the Mariana trench, which descends over 6,000 meters. The Royal Society Open Science journal published the findings of the study, concluding that all marine environments have now been affected by plastic waste. Many of these microplastics come from substances that do not biodegrade quickly and make their way to the ocean via landfills. Once they reach the ocean, the plastics break down even further and float to the bottom. Related: Point Nemo, the most remote spot in the ocean, is plagued with plastic Scientists are well aware of the impact plastics have on shallow marine environments, where the waste is a choking hazard for seabirds, whales and dolphins. But nobody thought the problem to be as widespread as the study showed. Scientists captured creatures from six different locations deep on the ocean floor. The researchers examined organisms from the Japan trench, Mariana trench , Izu-Bonin trench, Peru-Chile trench and the New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches. Microplastics were discovered in all six locations. Some of the plastics that were ingested included lyocell, ramie, polyvinyl, rayon and polyethylene. The deeper the scientists looked, the more contamination they found. This is largely due to the fact that the waste has nowhere to go once it reaches the bottom of the ocean and cannot be flushed out. “It is intuitive that the ultimate sink for this debris, in whatever size, is the deep sea,” the study concluded. It is unclear how much these microplastics are harming deep sea ecosystems. Scientists believe the waste is more harmful at lower depths, because organisms that thrive in these environments often eat whatever they come across. While scientists continue to do more studies, researchers admitted that it is depressing finding so much plastic waste in a place where humans have such little contact yet are making the biggest impact. Via The Guardian Image via TKremmel

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Scientists believe lab-grown meat may be more harmful to the environment than farms

February 21, 2019 by  
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Scientists and environmentalists are always looking for ways to make meat consumption more environmentally friendly, but lab-grown meat may not be the solution. Scientists now say that synthetic meat might be more damaging to the environment than traditional cattle farms. Research has shown that cattle farms have played a role in global warming. In fact, scientists estimate that 25 percent of all greenhouse gases can be attributed to agriculture, with beef production leading the way in methane and nitrous oxide production. These alarming statistics have prompted scientists to look for viable alternatives in the meat market. Lab-grown meat has been a promising solution to the problem, though scientists warn that growing meat in a laboratory setting may be more harmful to the environment under certain circumstances. Related: Aleph Farms has created the first lab-grown steak The biggest difference between cattle beef and lab-grown beef is the type of emission that is produced. Cattle farms tend to produce a lot of methane, which contributes greatly to global warming. Manufacturing meat in a lab, meanwhile, releases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is also bad for the environment. The catch is that methane breaks up in around 12 years while carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. “Per tonne emitted, methane has a much larger warming impact than carbon dioxide. However, it only remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years, whereas carbon dioxide persists and accumulates for millennia,” Raymond Pierrehumbert, a professor at Oxford Martin School, explained. That said, growing meat in a lab can be better for the environment if the manufacturing process uses sustainable energy. This would help curb the overall carbon use without releasing the amount of methane of traditional cattle farms. While this would lessen greenhouse gas emissions, there are other factors to consider with lab-grown meat, including water pollution. Until more research is done on the long-term effects of lab-grown meat, scientists are ultimately unable to determine which method is better for the environment. Via BBC Image via Shutterstock

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5 key benefits of green buildings on the environment and your lifestyle

February 21, 2019 by  
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The importance of buildings in society and everyday human life can’t be underestimated. They are the center of just about everything we do — from work to play — and for most people living without them is unimaginable. However, traditional structures are damaging the environment and green buildings just might be one of the most powerful tools we can develop in the fight against climate change . According to National Geographic , by 2050 nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas . Even though the cities of the world cover just two percent of Earth’s land area, they are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions  — with nearly one-third of those emissions coming from buildings. Those numbers are the result of traditional construction, and the exciting thing is green buildings could drastically change things. Already, green buildings in the United States have reduced CO2 emissions by 34 percent. Related: 6 places to find the best recycled building materials What are green buildings? There is no specific standard for green buildings , but some of the features are energy efficiency, less water usage, better indoor air quality, improved acoustics and green roof systems. Those goals can be achieved via various methods including using alternative energy sources like solar panels, high-efficiency light fixtures and natural light, not to mention, incorporating sustainable and eco-friendly building materials into the design. But the benefits of green buildings are not just limited improving the environment, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to green buildings and their extensive benefits. Green buildings save money The initial construction costs for a green building might be a bit higher, but they are cheaper to operate and maintain, which ultimately makes them a good long term investment. According to the California Sustainable Building Task Force, a two percent investment in green design will save you more than ten times that investment in the long run.  So, if you have a $1 million building project and invested $20,000 in green design, it will lead to $200,000 in savings over 20 years. Using renewable energy sources significantly reduces the cost of power, heating and cooling, making maintenance costs 20 percent lower than traditional buildings. In general, the resale value of green buildings is higher because potential buyers know that their utility costs will be lower than normal. Federal tax incentives are also available for both residential and commercial green buildings, with many local and state governments following suit. Related: Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials Extensive environmental benefits This is the most expected benefit of green buildings, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. The reduced energy consumption, water conservation, lower emissions and reduced waste from green buildings is invaluable to the fight against climate change. Physical and mental health At first, the green building concept was all about reducing environmental impact.  But now, studies have shown that working in a green building is good for both physical and mental health, and this has led to many building developers adding space for health and wellness activities. Many green buildings create an environment for better physical activity by using vacant areas for green spaces, yoga studios and gyms, making bike racks more accessible, or adding things like massage chairs and sleep chambers to reduce stress, boost job satisfaction and cut down on absenteeism. Another growing trend in green buildings is better use of staircases. For decades, architects have hidden staircases so well that you can’t even find them in some buildings. But now, staircases are coming back and this means workers are taking more steps every day. Employee perception of green buildings is that they are cleaner and better maintained, and the use of non-toxic chemicals and better ventilation has led to a reduction in sick building syndrome . According to the EPA, poor air quality and indoor pollutants in non-green buildings have caused some lung cancer deaths and many cases of asthma. Increased productivity A UCLA study showed that employees who work in green buildings were 16 percent more productive than those who work in traditional buildings. Study author Professor Magali Delmas says employees in green buildings and those who adopt green practices are “more motivated, received more training, and benefit from better interpersonal relationships.” A Harvard study also showed that employees in green buildings were better at making decisions and reaching goals. Also, including green elements in a building led to a higher level of perceived well being and better task completion. Happy employees Engineering consulting firm Cundall found during a survey that green elements like eco-friendly flooring, green views, improved acoustics and better air quality led to the attraction of more workers, improved employee retention and also made employees prouder of their workplace. In the previously mentioned Harvard study, it also found that better lighting design in a building — natural light, LED, task lighting, dimmers — has helped circadian rhythms, which means you sleep better at night. Ditching fluorescent lighting and opting for energy-efficient lighting in green buildings also made occupants happier and more productive. Via BigRentz Images via Shutterstock

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Can the Caymans save the Caribbean’s remaining coral reefs?

February 13, 2019 by  
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A rehabilitation program for coral reef species has proven to be successful for an ongoing project to combat a massive disease spreading throughout the Cayman’s pillar coral species, according to the Department of the Environment in the Cayman Islands. The rapidly spreading disease, called “white band disease”, was first noticed on a famous dive site called the Killer Pillars in February 2018. It has ravaged pillar coral throughout the Caribbean and destroyed almost 90 percent of the species along the Florida coast. Scientists in the Cayman Islands removed diseased coral from the reef and selected healthy fragments to grow in a nursery. They later planted healthy coral back onto the reef, in hopes the fragments became resilient enough to resist the disease and build back the reef. Though the project is still an experiment, the results look promising thus far and can have wide implications on how other islands respond to this disease throughout the region. The Caribbean already lost 80 percent of all coral reefs Throughout the world, coral reefs are seriously vulnerable and rapidly dying. Reefs are thought to host the most biodiversity of any ecosystem in the world– even more than a rainforest . Despite their importance, reefs are critically vulnerable to small changes in the environment. Slight increases in ocean temperature cause widespread die-off throughout Caribbean and Pacific reefs. Additional threats include pollution, over fishing and run-off of nitrogen from farms that fertilize algae and causes it to smother reefs. Abandoned fishing gear also wreaks havoc on reefs and creates an opportunity for disease. “Fishing line not only causes coral tissue injuries and skeleton damage, but also provides an additional surface for potential pathogens to colonize, increasing their capacity to infect wounds caused by entangled fishing line,” says Dr. Joleah Lamb from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Coral reefs are home to nearly 25 percent of all marine species and sustain the fishing industry. They are paramount to Caribbean economies and are an important defense for small islands and coastal communities during hurricanes . Evidence shows their structures reduce damaging wave energy by nearly 97 percent . Also, reefs attract dive tourists and help build beaches by breaking down into sand. Experiments such as the one in the Cayman Islands are critically important for ensuring the reefs that do remain, are healthy and functioning. How does the project in the Cayman Islands work? Along with marine scientists from the U.K. and U.S., coral experts from the Department of the Environment removed diseased coral from the reef in order to stem the alarming spread of the disease. They then cut segments of healthy coral to regrow in nurseries. Coral nurseries, a growing trend in coral restoration, are structures constructed in clean, sandy sections of the ocean floor. Scientists attach healthy coral fragments to the simple structures, often made out of PVC pipe, and monitor them as they grow in a safe environment. Once the corals are strong, healthy and considerably larger in size than the original fragments, the scientists plant them back onto the original reef or select new sites to start a reef. Related: Using nature to build resilient communities Coral nurseries are popping up around the Caribbean Impressively, 100 percent of the coral fragments in the Department of Environment’s nursery survived. Coral nurseries are a restoration technique popular throughout the Caribbean basin, including Bonaire, Curacao, Grenada, the Virgin Islands and many restoration and research laboratories in Florida. Disease is still a threat After their successful growth in the nursery, 81 percent of the fragments re-planted were still alive after five months. This is a considerable success rate given the threats these corals face. However, 23 percent of the planted fragments also showed signs of the relentless “white band disease” (Acroporid white syndrome). Researchers have not given up hope and recognize that if kept contained, disease can be a natural part of ecosystems. “We do know that diseases have their seasons, they come and go, they are vigorous for a while and then they die back, and at that point we have to see some kind of coral colony recovery,” Tim Austin, Deputy Director of the Department of Environment, told Cayman 27 News . “We are monitoring it and we are hoping to have a better handle on how this disease progresses.” In addition to techniques such as reducing marine debris, pollution and establishing protected conservation zones around reefs, coral salvage projects are an important technique to ensure that Caribbean’s the remaining corals survive. “If longer-term monitoring results prove equally successful, the salvage, relocation and restoration of actively diseased coral colonies could become an everyday tool in the restoration toolbox of coral reef managers,” the Department of Environment reported . Via Yale 360 Image via Shutterstock

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